July 14, 2017

Redder—and Better—Red Velvet Cake Without Food Coloring

Red Velvet Cake

Many people hold a special place in their hearts for rich Red Velvet cake. But health-conscious people may balk at the red food dye used to impart the signature deep-red color that characterizes this sweet treat.

There’s good reason to be concerned. Evidence suggests there may be a link between consumption of artificial food pigments and certain childhood disorders, such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Many food-grade dyes are manufactured from petroleum products. The most popular food-grade dye, Allura Red AC, is derived from naphthalene—the ingredient in mothballs. That’s right. Mothballs. Red food coloring may also be derived from the secretions of insects. While this is arguably safer than consuming synthetic petroleum-derived dyes, it leaves something to be desired in terms of appeal.


Why not use a more natural coloring agent to achieve a similar vibrant hue without worrying about the safety (or inherent repulsiveness) of more common, but questionable, pigments? This clever recipe makes use of healthful, natural beet juice to achieve that ruddy hue that’s so integral to the sensory appeal of traditional Red Velvet cake. Eliminating artificial food dyes while substituting a healthful vegetable alternative is clearly a win/win.


Red Velvet Cake (Without Food Coloring)


Ingredients (Cake)


  • 3 medium-sized beets
  • 3/4 cup organic butter (plus extra for greasing pans)
  • 3/4 cup buttermilk
  • juice of one lemon
  • 2 tsp. white vinegar
  • 2 cups cake flour, sifted before measuring
  • 3 Tbsp. Dutch process cocoa powder
  • 1 tsp. baking powder (plus an extra pinch)
  • 1/2 tsp. baking soda
  • 1-3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 3 large eggs


Cooking Instructions


  • Cook beets; wrap scrubbed beets in foil. Bake in 350° F oven for approximately 75 minutes. Allow to cool. Remove skins.
  • Preheat oven to 350° F (if not already done).
  • Generously butter two nine-inch cake pans. Dust with flour.
  • Chop beets in a food processor until they have achieved the consistency of finely chopped onions. Reserve once cup of beet pulp; set the rest aside. Add one cup of beets to food processor and process again, while adding buttermilk, lemon juice, vanilla and vinegar. Purée.
  • In a separate bowl, sift flour with cocoa, baking powder, salt, and baking soda.
  • Add butter to a stand mixer bowl and beat until soft. Add sugar and continue beating to achieve a creamy consistency. One at a time, beat in eggs.
  • Now take turns adding a portion of beet mixture, followed by a portion of the flour mixture, while continuing to beat briefly to integrate ingredients. Continue the process, adding flour mixture last, until all ingredients have been combined.
  • Pour batter into the two prepared cake pans. Bake at 350°F for approximately 20 minutes. Test for doneness by inserting a piece of dry spaghetti in center. If it comes away clean, your cake is done. Allow to cool on a wire rack. Remove from pans, and place one cake on serving platter. Top with about 1 cup frosting (see below) and smooth with a spoon or spatula. Top with other cake, and apply remaining frosting to cover entire cake.


Makes one festive cake, or about 24 cupcakes.


Cream cheese frosting




  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1 lb. cream cheese, room temperature
  • zest of one lemon (outer yellow portion only)
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1-1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 6 cups powdered sugar
  • 2 Tbsp. cream, for added moisture


Cooking Instructions


  • Add softened butter and cream cheese to a stand mixer. Cream together slowly, gradually adding salt, vanilla and lemon zest. Add sugar at low speed, until integrated.
  • After ingredients have been thoroughly mixed, beat on high for 5-7 minutes, to incorporate more air and impart fluffiness to the frosting. Add cream, if needed, to reduce thickness to desired consistency. Top cupcakes or sheet cake with frosting after cake cools.


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